I’ve been writing for well over twenty years now. I’ve been a professional novelologist for a little over eight years now.
I still have no clue what people want.
I have an inkling. I know that, generally, people like things they already know they like. Once someone discovers something they enjoy, they’re likely to stick with it for a long, long time. We get annoyed at Hollywood for producing sequel after sequel, but we go see them. We get bored with ongoing book series, but we stick with them. We become wholly dedicated to our favorite TV shows, books, movies, bands, and so on.
Until we stop being dedicated and move onto something else.
I know (or at least, I’m pretty sure) that the key to gaining a loyal audience, more than anything else, is timing. Star Wars came along at the right time and a media empire was born. Like a first love, it holds a special place in a lot of people’s hearts, and it continues to thrive. It’s not only because of that original audience either. It’s because Star Wars spreads like a cultural virus, from old host to fresh hosts. It continues to remain relevant because, somehow, it continues to become the first love of new generations.
Harry Potter became a phenomenon because a young generation was ready for something, and, if it wasn’t Harry Potter, it would’ve been something else. That’s not meant as a slight to Harry Potter‘s popularity. Any more than it’s a slight to my lovely wife to acknowledge that timing was critical to our relationship. I love my wife, but if our timing had been off, we could easily have gone different ways, and we would never have known what we were missing.
But is timing all that matters? Is life all about being in the right place at the right time?
It’s not that I doubt the importance of other elements. The original Star Wars is a groundbreaking film and worthy of every bit of praise it receives. The Harry Potter series (while not my cup of tea) is solid, entertaining, and has plenty worthwhile about it. But timing is why they’re noticed.
Maybe it’s because I’ve had a bit of a career slump of late, and I feel like I should be doing better than I am at this point. Of course, it’s just as likely that I was on an early, unexpected career high, and this isn’t a slump, but the way it should be. It’s weird to complain about being dissatisfied getting paid to write stories for a living when so many people would love to do it for free, but it’s human. I want to be more popular than I am. I want to sell more books.
And I’m just not sure how to do that.
A lot of that, much as I hate saying it, is out of my hands. I don’t control the timing of the universe, and I can’t tell the future. As humans, we tend to view hindsight as foresight. Sure, Star Wars and Harry Potter are now multi-million dollar cultural moneymaking machines, but at the time, nobody really knew that. And there are plenty of predicted NEXT BIG THINGS that fizzled away and faded into obscurity.
I’m fortunate enough that I’ve seen other writers go through this, so it isn’t quite surprising. I’ve known more than one writer who, while chugging along with their career, hit that career bump where things just seemed overwhelming and frustrating. That’s not much different than any career, where it’s all too easy to feel like you should be further along than you are and you end up wondering if this is all there is to it?
I’ve never expected to be a household name or to be a giant of science fiction and fantasy, but I know I don’t want to be stuck where I am either. I’ve come to realize recently that my ambitions are larger than that. I don’t think I’ll ever be spoken of in hushed tones among the greats of literature. I doubt my books will even be remembered a few decades from now. But still, I want to climb higher.
I used to think writing good stories (and a lot of luck) might be enough, but it isn’t. There has to be a game plan at some point. I don’t have one of those yet.
STEP ONE: WRITE
STEP TWO: ?????
STEP THREE: PROFIT
You could call it a work in progress, Action Force.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,